Biomedical Sensors and Biosensors

Paul Yager

A convergence of factors is now resulting in the rapid development of sensors for biomedical use. These factors include:

A. Increasing knowledge of the biochemical bases of normal and pathological biology,

B. Rapid advances of biotechnology and genetic engineering,

C. Steadily decreasing costs of sophisticated devices due to microprocessor technology,

D. Reduction in the size of sensors due to silicon microfabrication and fiber optics technology,

E. Rapidly advancing sensor technology in nonbiomedical fields and for in vitro use for clinical chemistry,

F. Advances in biomaterials for biocompatibility,

G. Pressure for reduction in costs of delivering medical care through more efficient treatment of patients and shorter hospital stays.

Advances in computer technology have reached the point that the control of devices and processes is often only limited by the ability to provide reliable information to the computer. Furthermore, the technologies developed by the microprocessor and fiber optics industries are now spawning a new generation of sensors. Areas benefitting from these new sensors include the automotive and aerospace industries, chemical and biochemical processing, and environmental monitoring. The introduction of such sensors to clinical practice is a slow process that has just begun because of the same regulatory factors that apply to any use of devices and materials in vivo. Furthermore, sensors are as subject to the problems of biocompatibility as are any other type of in vivo device, and initial optimism about the potential applicability of sensors to in vivo use has given way to a more sober appraisal of the potential of the field.

This chapter provides a brief overview of the application of sensors to clinical medicine, with an emphasis on chemical sensors and the emerging field of biosensors. Several excellent reviews may be found in the recent literature (Turner et al., 1987; Collison and Meyerhoff, 1990; Rolfe, 1990).

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